In praise of Nile Rodgers and Chic
Everyone’s smiling. Everyone’s dancing too, but it’s the smiles which catch your attention first of all. It’s rare to look around at a concert and see huge, wide, genuine grins on every single face around you. At summer outdoor concerts in Ireland, these event gigs of the season, you usually have people who’ve paid a good whack of money spending their time talking to each other and not paying a blind bit of attention to what’s happening onstage unless the band play one of the Big Songs.
But that wasn’t the case when Nile Rodgers and Chic came to town the other night. At the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin, every single person seemed to singing their heads off, dancing their socks off and just beaming with delight. There was no point in waiting for the big song to come along to hoot and holler because every damn song seemed to be the big song. From “Good Times” and “Le Freak” to “Get Lucky” and “We Are Family” to the sublime “Lost In Music” and “Let’s Dance”, it was one of those rare sets where you knew every single song on the setlist. That said, there were still a few twists and reminders that there are still surprises to uncover in Rodgers’ career-long productive streak, such as a gorgeous take on “Why”, the Carly Simon song written and produced by Rodgers and his buddy Bernard Edwards back in the day.
It’s always fascinating to watch an act enjoy themselves so much. In the case of Rodgers, it’s also heart-warming. For many years, Chic were an act for the footnotes. Sure, everyone knew all about their amazing track record, their divine disco turns and Rodgers’ silky, liquid production work with David Bowie, Duran Duran, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Paul Simon and others. But Chic as a live entity, a band taking the razzle-dazzle to the masses, was not really on the agenda. The band played live shows, of course, but not on the scale of today’s all-conquering Chic hit-machine.
You can probably credit a few things for this change in fortunes. One may well be the band’s appearance at Sonar in Barcelona in 2006 where they showed that disco pioneers could work wonders at a cuttting-edge electronic music festival. People who were reared on house and techno get lost in music and vintage disco tunes which have more sparkle than a bottle of cava. This lead to more festival shows (such as their seminal appearance at the Electric Picnic in 2009) and a rediscovery that there’s no show like a Chic show. Then came Rodgers’ work with Daft Punk and a whole new buzz and vibe to add to the mix.
The band’s two Irish shows at the weekend were the latest in a lengthy run of shows the band have played here since Stradbally in ’09. The band keep getting booked and the tickets keep getting sold and people keep turning up to the shows because the band deliver good times every time. The equation really is as simple as that. Here’s our Nile Rodgers’ playlist with some choice tracks and albums associated with the man.
(1) Chic “Le Freak”
The story of how Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards came to write this song, after an unhappy encounter with the Studio 54 bouncers, is the stuff of legend. The tune too is legendary, a groove which continues to send folks to nirvana here, there and everywhere. Proof that something great can occasionally come out of whinging.
(2) Sister Sledge “Lost In Music”
Lost in music, caught in a trap, no turning back: a couple of stanzas which contain more emotional power than any amount of earnest, bed-wetting singer-songwriters can muster. Sister Sledge’s evocative anthem is all the better for the blue-chip production assistance of Rodgers and Edwards.
(3) Chic “Good Times”
James Brown may be famously the most sampled man in hip-hop history, but Chic are not far behind with “Good Times” in particular providing robust, colourful ballast for rap anthems from Sugarhill Gang, De La Soul and LL Cool J. One of those tunes which works on any dancefloor and which has saved the ass of many DJs over the years.
(4) Diana Ross “I’m Coming Out”
Another one for the hip-hop crews, courtesy of Notorious BIG sampling it for “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. It’s also a great example of Rodgers’ ability as a producer to coax great performances from returning megastars. A huge track which worked wonders for Ross and her “Diana” comeback album in 1980, though Rodgers called this “the most difficult record” of Chic’s entire career. “Nothing was more challenging on every level than that record”, he said of the experience.
(5) David Bowie “Let’s Dance”
As with Ross, Bowie needed a hit and a connection with a younger audience, an exchange which Rodgers oversaw with his expert eye and finely tuned ear for a groove. “David composed it originally as a folk song”, Rodgers said in an interview in 2012. “That’s what it sounded like to me, it sounded pretty folky. It certainly didn’t sound anything like it did when it finally reached everyone else’s ears.”
(6) Nile Rodgers “Adventures In the Land of the Good Groove”
The Chic man’s 1983 solo debut album may not have been a huge commercial success and remains under-appreciated in terms of his canon, yet there’s plenty on the album to warrant inspection thirty plus years on. Certainly, the experimental hues and future-funk washes on tracks like “Yum Yum” and “Rock Bottom” set out a template for Rodgers’ future moves.
(7) Grace Jones “I’m Not Perfect”
From Jones’ 1986 album “Inside Story”, it’s a track which still works today and is a high point in the Jones’ back catalogue, helped enormously by the guitar at the start which is studded with Rodgers’ stardust. Check out the video for the Andy Warhol cameo and the outlandish dress which Keith Haring designed for her.
(8) The B-52s “Cosmic Thing”
Rodgers hooked up with Don Was to produce the band’s fifth album in 1990. It’s the album which features “Love Shack” (a track which was a Was production), but it also has “Roam”, which is where Rodgers took the Atlanta band’s new wave groove and sprinkled a little magic on it.
(9) Daft Punk “Lose Yourself to Dance”
Everyone knows about how Rodgers’ liquid, unmistakable guitar hook took “Get Lucky” to a whole new high. But the “Random Access Memories” album from the French motorcycle helmet gang also has this monumental rub of languid, thrilling, inventive funk, hallmarked by Mr Chic at his best.
(10) Chic “I’ll Be There”
The dude is still making hits. From the forthcoming Chic album “It’s About Time”, this is a classic disco-funk track which fits effortlessly alongside all those solid gold hits with which Chic made their name back in the day. The song, which began life as an out-take from a Sister Sledge writing session in 1979, is brought bang up to date by the brash, bold groove to go with that glorious guitar lick.